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SENZA ORARIO, SENZA BANDIERA (Fonit Cetra CDM 2038) [1968]

NEW TROLLS (Fonit Cetra CDLP 422) [1970]

GRANDI SCELTE (Fonit Cetra CDM 2004) [1987 compilation]

SINGLES A'S & B'S (Mellow MMP 230) [1994 compilation]

 CONCERTO GROSSO N.1 e N.2 (Fonit Cetra CDM 2034) [1971 & 1976]

SEARCHING FOR A LAND (Fonit Cetra CDLP 429) [1972]

UT (Fonit Cetra CDLP 430) [1972]

ATOMIC SYSTEM (Japanese Crime K32Y 2160) [1973]

TEMPI DISPARI (Japanese Crime KICP 2054) [1974]

L.I.V.E.N.T. (NEW TROLLS LIVE) (Japanese Crime KICP 2719) [1976]

F.S. (Mellow MMP 249) [1981]

TOUR (Fonit Cetra CDM 2057) [1985] Q

UELLI COME NOI (Italian WEA 903177101-2) [1992]

The New Trolls are unique in the history of Italian progressive music, having been around (and recording) since or before The Beginning, while still maintaining a presence today. There are other Italian "beat" groups who preceded the "pop Italiano" or progressive phase (which started around 1970) and made at least one progressive album (I Giganti, for example), but New Trolls were leaders and were for a time the top band in Italy.

Even their origin is unique. In 1966 a Genoa critic wrote about his ideal lineup for a group in a local newspaper. He chose among "the best musicians who had been playing that year in hundreds of small night clubs," according to Paolo Barotto in IL RITORNO DEL POP ITALIANO/THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP. The musicians chosen were Vittorio De Scalzi (guitar), Nico Di Palo (guitar, vocals), Mauro Chiarugi (keyboards), Gianni Belleno (drums), and Giorgio D'Adamo (bass). "The five musicians -- out of curiosity -- met and decided to form a group." Thus were New Trolls born. In 1967 they were the Rolling Stones' backup group on their Italian tour, and the same year recorded their first single, "Sensazioni." As Barotto puts it, "Their music, at least at the beginning, 'winks' a bit at the many Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge and hard rock groups that were blossoming in those years," which is to say that they blended a Mediterranean melodicism (which underlies most great Italian pop songs) with a hard rock approach.

Their first album, SENZA ORARIO, SENZA BANDIERA (1968), is also Italy's first "concept album," with "lyrics ... not simply conceived for each piece of music but thematically linked to each other, tied in with an overall topic concept. For the lyrics the songwriter Fabrizio De Andre was called in, while the music was written by New Trolls themselves." (De Andre later made a double-album with PFM -- in which De Andre's folk-pop ballad style of music unfortunately predominated.) If you don't understand Italian, nothing about this album will tell you it's a "concept album," however. The musical themes are not connected, and each of the ten songs is pop-song short. However, the Trolls' pre-progressive song style is distinctive and enjoyable in its own right.

Their second album, NEW TROLLS, is a collection of singles, and, to the non-Italian ear, sounds much like the first. Here one can find that first, 1967, single (A-side), as well as the A-side of their second, both sides of their fourth, fifth, and sixth, the A-sides of their ninth and tenth, and both sides of their eleventh.

In 1987, relatively early in the CD revolution, Fonit Cetra (who originally released the LPs of these albums on their Cetra label) released a compilation CD, GRANDI SCELTE -- identified on its spine as just NEW TROLLS -- which contains 11 of the 12 tracks on NEW TROLLS (omitting "Annalisa," their tenth single), 4 tracks from their first album (so much for its concept), and 3 additional tracks which are the A and B-sides of a 1978 single ("Aldebaran"), and the A-side of a 1981 single ("La' Nella Casa Dell'Angelo"). This makes it a good sampler of the non-progressive output of the group.

Then, in 1994 Mellow, a prolific label which has reissued a lot of classic Italian albums and a great deal of new material (mostly at least quasi-progressive) besides, brought out Singles A's & B's. This album fills in most of the cracks in the Fonit Cetra collections, including the B-sides of those early singles (there is no overlap at all), the missing third single (both sides), etc. Of the 15 tracks, 14 cover the period 1967-1972. The 15th is "La Nella Casa Dell'Angelo" from 1981 -- the only cut on any Fonit Cetra CD. (By my count, out of 29 singles released -- 57 pieces, with one split as part 1 and part 2 on both sides -- 30 sides are now available on CD, while 27 remain unreissued.)

In 1971 the Trolls released CONCERTO GROSSO N.1. This album was to take them in a new direction. The album is, as Barotto put it, "one of the foundation albums of Italian progressive music. This album features piano player Louis Bacalov's collaboration. It's the first effort in Italy to mix classic music with rock...." (It was soon followed by Osanna's MILANO CALIBRO 9 and Rovescio Dell Medaglia's CONTAMINAZIONNE -- released here as CONTAMINATION by RDM -- also classical-rock compositions by Bacalov. Of the three albums, RDM's is the best realized of these attempts to fuse classical music with rock -- done mostly by juxtaposition -- probably because Louis had learned from the first two.) The first side of the LP was Bacalov's side; the second was improvised by New Trolls in a long sprawling side-long cut that probably owed a lot to West Coast jams of the late sixties. I find the album overall unsatisfying. It was the Trolls' first attempt to break out of the three-minute song format which dominated their first two albums, but Bacalov's themes (one derived from Hendrix) are weak, drawing on Romantic period classical music. His music is pretty but shallow, and the Trolls are swamped by an orchestra. The second-side jam is not without its moments, but is generally boring. The album is short and less important in its own right than as a positive omen of albums to come.

(You cannot obtain this album by itself on CD. Instead Fonit Cetra have paired it with the 1976 CONCERTO GROSSO N.2, an album which we'll get to in due time. Suffice to say the CD of both albums provides bookends to the Trolls' best albums, which fall between the two CONCERTO GROSSOs.)

1972 was the year in which New Trolls became the producers of a mature music. Two albums were released that year, SEARCHING FOR A LAND and UT. These are albums that belong on the shelf of anyone who enjoys the best progressive music.

SEARCHING FOR A LAND was released as a double-LP (but is on one long CD). The first LP was studio-recorded, and all its lyrics are in English (which apparently did not go over well in Italy). Every one of its 7 tracks is a winner, from the warmly Mediterranean opening of its first track, "Searching," to the anguish of "In St. Peter's Day." Nico Di Palo's vocals are recorded as choked screams as heard distantly through a megaphone -- a powerfully unique sound. This is music with strong melodies and sophisticated -- and very progressive -- production. It repays repeated listenings.

The second LP of the original album (tracks 8 - 11) is recorded live in concert. The audience sounds are phased into a psychedelic sound effect, but the music is largely of a harder rock, and by the evidence quite crowd-pleasing. It shows what the band was capable of live. New Trolls had a lot of power.

UT is a stunner. Brilliantly recorded, with incredible grand piano sounds (from Maurizio Salvi), it is hardly surprising that its first track is titled "Studio." This album is in Italian, but with relatively few vocals and a lot of instrumental work. The music is a continuation of the music on SEARCHING FOR A LAND, but in a few places harder-edged. When I first got the LP I listened to it incessantly -- I valued it as much as its contemporaries from Genesis -- and it only slowly dawned on me that the New Trolls had done something I would have thought impossible: they had made hard rock palatable to me. But the album is not hard rock per se; the hard rock elements are blended into the whole. Nonetheless, the album prompted a split in the group. "This album presented some cuts that were very close to hard rock: De Scalzi did not particularly like this genre and left the group. 1973 is the year of the big break up: from here on until 1975 only a very few people have been able to follow the many line-up changes that occurred. The group's members admitted that the problems arose about different musical and political positions." (UT exists on CD in both the Italian Fonit Cetra version and an earlier Japanese version on King Record's Nexus label. The Japanese version, now long out of print, included a bonus track: the 1968 single, "Visioni.")

There was legal wrangling over the rights to the New Trolls name after De Scalzi released a single, "Una Notte Sul Monte Calvo" ("Night on the Bare Mountain" -- a rearrangement of Mussorsky's composition for synthesizers), under the New Trolls' name. The others made an album, NICO, GIANNI, FRANK, MAURIZIO, for Fonit, and became Ibis (two additional albums, each of a different character, one in English with Ric Parnell). D'Adamo joined De Scalzi to form Atomic System, which was variously known as New Trolls Atomic System and NT Atomic System. (The original LP's cover was printed as N.T. ATOMIC SYSTEM, but a paper strip with NEW TROLLS ATOMIC SYSTEM was pasted over that name.)


Like the single, ATOMIC SYSTEM was released by De Scalzi's own label, Magma. (De Scalzi later launched another label, Grog. Between the two labels he was able to record a number of innovative Genoan groups, like Pholas Dactylus, Alphataurus and Celeste.) De Scalzi played keyboards and flute as well as guitar, and also did the vocals (there were not many). The music is definitely full-fledged progressive; no hard rock remains.

I have two differing versions of the LP. The Magma LP has an elaborate triple-gatefold cover, and the track titles are entirely in Italian except for the final track, "Butterfly." The German Ariola label reissued it (as it did other Italian albums like UNO) on its Pan subsidiary, this time with the titles in English (with the original Italian titles underneath in smaller print), as NEWS TROLLS: NIGHT ON THE BARE MOUNTAIN. "Butterfly" was bumped off the album, and the first single ("Una Notte Sul Monte Calvo") is substituted. Fortunately, the only available CD of the album includes both "Una Notte..." and "Butterfly." Less fortunately, that CD is now probably out of print; it was issued in Japan in 1988 by King Records on its Crime label. Look for it -- this album is the capstone of the Trolls' career in progressive music.

The De Scalzi "Atomic System" offshoot (now making free use of the name New Trolls) released one more album on Magma, TEMPI DISPARI. It is totally different. Recorded live, with only one track on each side of the original LP, it is jazz-fusion based. If you heard it in a blindfold test you'd never associate it with the same band that made ATOMIC SYSTEM -- or any previous New Trolls album, for that matter. It was an early (1974) sign of a path many Italian groups would follow for a short while: PFM, Osanna, and others, including an Osanna offshoot, Uno, which became Nova, all flirted with fusion music -- most of which sounded rather like second-rate Brand-X -- in the mid- and late seventies. Here again, the only CD issued (1990) of this album is on the Japanese Crime label.

The album wasn't well-received, and the band broke up. (Keyboard player Renato Rosset joined Nova to continue the jazz direction which he at least wanted to pursue.) In 1975 there was talk of reforming the original New Trolls. Ricky Belloni, ex-leader of Nuova Idea, joined the original members when they reformed the band.

It was this newly reconstituted New Trolls which made CONCERTO GROSSO N.2 for release in 1976 -- also for Magma. Once again, side one of the LP was the "classical" side -- cowritten this time with Luis Enriquez, who supplied the themes and orchestral parts. Side two had five songs -- a return to the Trolls' pop-oriented side -- one of which is a solid version of "Let It Be Me." The album closes with "Le Roi Soleil," which sounds very much like a Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody" ripoff, but is carried off with bravura. Barotto says of this album, "a very good album but inferior to" CONCERTO GROSSO N.1. I disagree; I think both are lightweight, but the pop songs are stronger on N.2.... (The comparison is easy since both albums can be found on the same Fonit Cetra CD.)

That was the end of the Trolls' foray into progressive music. Since then they've followed groups like Genesis and PFM into the pop world and all but became an oldies band.

Fortunately for their fans New Trolls are a superior pop band, with strong melodies and Di Palo's singing a major asset. NEW TROLLS LIVE was another Magma release (available on CD from Japanese King Record's Crime label in 1993 as L.I.V.E.N.T.) and it holds up well. It opens with new performances of two songs from their first album, "Ho Veduto," and "Signore Io Sono Irish," followed by their 1969 single, "Una Miniera." These were now among their Greatest Hits -- and would turn up on subsequent albums as well. "Suite Disco" is a new piece, and despite its name rather progressive. The first side of the LP closed with a strong live performance of "Una Notte..." -- "Night on the Bare Mountain" -- and the second side opens with "Adagio" from "Concerto Grosso N.1" and "Vivace" from "Concerto Grosso N.2," affirming the Trolls' quasi-progressive side while still maintaining a more pop stance. These are followed by a very snappy performance of "Le Roi Soleil," and a better performance of "Let It Be Me" than their studio version. The album closes with "Vent'Anni," a 1971 single.


It is clear that for the New Trolls the excursion into serious progressive music lasted only a few years, and might almost be considered an aberration in their overall career. The parallel here is with the Beach Boys, who for a time (1966-72) created ambitious, forward-reaching music, but could not carry their audience with them into this more difficult territory and were forced to retreat to regain that audience. This becomes clearer as we examine New Trolls' later recordings. The 1978 single, "Aldebaran," is a return to pure pop, for example, and is all but indistinguishable from their singles of ten years earlier. ALDEBARAN is the title of their 1978 Italian Warner Bros. album as well. In 1979 Italian Warner Bros. issued NEW TROLLS. In 1981 the band returned to Fonit, which issued F.S., of which Barotto says, "The group went back to the original concept album with F.S." Again, the "concept" is lyrical, and there are no musical suites or ongoing themes of a progressive nature. But by now, like the Beach Boys, New Trolls had established their own readily identifiable sound, applying it to pop songs successfully.

"From 1981 until today New Trolls have been really 'themselves' only in live concerts," Barotto states. They continued to release albums -- AMERICA O.K. on Fonit in 1983, TOUR on Fonit in 1985, AMICI on Ricordi in 1988, and QUELLI COME NOI on WEA (Warner Bros.' successor label in Europe) in 1992. "On their last LP, AMICI, Ricky Belloni is missing, reducing the group to a trio," Barotto points out. TOUR and QUELLI COME NOI are available on CD. TOUR is another live album of greatest hits, while QUELLI COME NOI (which shows four musicians on its cover but fails to identify any of them) is a studio remake of their greatest hits, going back to "Visioni" (their second single from 1968), "Aldebaran," "Una Miniera," and "Signore Io Sono Irish," among others.

Thus, in shopping for albums by New Trolls, one has a plethora to choose among. If you find you enjoy their pop songs -- as I, for one, do -- you can buy them all. But if your interest is confined to their progressive recordings, look for just three (or maybe four) CDs: SEARCHING FOR A LAND, UT, and ATOMIC SYSTEM (plus maybe CONCERTO GROSSO N.1 e N.2). None of these may be easy to find by now. ATOMIC SYSTEM exists only as a Japanese CD from an apparently defunct label. And both SEARCHING FOR A LAND and UT were issued on CD as "Limited Editions" by Vinyl Magic through Fonit Cetra, and have not been maintained as catalog items by Fonit Cetra. (This is also true of the CDs of their first two albums.) Nonetheless, SEARCHING FOR A LAND, UT and ATOMIC SYSTEM are highly recommended.

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